The Macarthur region in Sydney’s south west must be one of the most overlooked areas in New South Wales. I’ll admit that I was certainly surprised at the amount of activities here for kids, but they definitely impressed my toughest critics; Harry (aged six) and Grace (aged three).
Proton’s new Prevé was serving as our chariot for the weekend, and as the kids climbed in, I hear “Mummy, is this a race car?” answered with “Don’t be silly Grace, sports cars are red!” I knew then that the Prevé had the all-important seal of approval, and despite being white, the car does look pretty flash. It is roomy enough to easily fit the kids, husband, pram and golf clubs, but small enough to park anywhere, and the handy Bluetooth means we can connect to our iPhone playlist and don’t have to rely on rush hour radio to supply music for the journey.
We start our Macarthur weekend with a game of putt putt golf at Mega Mini Golf’s fully-themed course. Harry bravely protects a slightly nervous Grace from skeletons guarding the third hole in The Lost Jungle, while Grace’s query “Mummy, is this Egypt?” made the Pharaoh’s Tomb theme all worthwhile, but everyone’s favourite is the Wild West, where Harry shots a hole in one.
After all that ball slamming action, it is lovely to explore the Campbelltown Arts Centre, which manages to be calmly serene while still welcoming families with young (i.e. loud) children such as mine. After a wander around the sculpture garden, where the kids climb all over the dinosaur sculpture, which I am gently reassured by staff is meant be ‘interactive’ for children, we relax by the babbling stream in the Japanese Garden with a cappuccino in hand. How do we manage this with kids in tow? They are completely occupied painting watercolours of the brilliantly dappled golden koi who bubble the water’s surface with curious lips in the stream below.
From fish to horses, the sweet crisp air of Sugarloaf Horse Centre is not the main attraction at our next stop, especially not for the kids, but it along with salt-of-the-earth owner and guide, Sharon, will certainly give you an authentic country experience. Rascal, the resident cheeky Shetland, gets on well with my little rascals as they are led around the paddock by Dad. Even picking out the helmets is a laugh-a-minute, with plenty of jokes about Dad’s being the size of a bath tub. For those a little older, Sugarloaf is 600 acres of trail-riding, country-side delight for riders of all abilities.
And countryside this is. Besides being a mere hour’s drive from Sydney’s bustling inner west, these outlying suburbs retain the golden glow of the country with wide open roads, and trees casting a gentle light across the shaggy pastures. It is really easy to forget you are still technically in a city.
The next stop on our sojourn is The Australia Botanic Garden, the largest in Australia. Make sure you enjoy lunch at Melaluca’s where a table in the sunshine will provide a lovely view over the kids as they mix-it up in the playground only metres away.
But the most interesting food at the Botanic Gardens can be found in the ‘Fruit Loop’. Ranger Ron or one of his colleagues can be booked in advance to take the family around this fascinating track where all number of natural indigenous treats can be found. When you’re fully fed, the ranger can take you on a driving tour of the park telling you all the juicy details about the amazing flora around you. Early August is the best time to reap the vibrant yellow rewards found in the wattle gardens and the kids will enjoy the standing sundials any time of year.
Dinner that evening is in Camden at the Back Galley Split Diner, where a ‘Happy Days’ vibe is brought to life by colourful 50s retro furniture, and the menu of simple American fare such as hot dogs and root beer floats will always get the kids’ thumbs-up.
A touch of England
My English husband is in his element when discovering our accommodation for the night is in an old English-style pub and coach house, the Camden Valley Inn. The bar and restaurant hold all the cosy quaint charm of the real thing, while our lovely spacious room is new and enjoys all the mod cons including, to my six-year-old’s relief, a flat screen. I am more inclined to gaze off our balcony, past the flame-coloured Chinese maple, and across the still paddocks made pastel by a gently lying mist.
Next morning, it is time to give the kids some culture. This area is surprisingly full of beautiful heritage-listed old homes left over from the nineteenth century’s aristocratic-money days. We are visiting Wivenhoe, where the kids love hearing the ghost stories of a little boy who still ‘sleeps’ in the nursery, and marvelling at the lack of TVs, while I soaked up the gentle rural views and stunning conservatory.
After working up an appetite, we jump in our little white sports car, I mean Prevé, and motor off to Menangle House where the kids get their faces painted like Spiderman, we all chow down on delicious fish and chips, and wander through the huge grounds perfectly set-up for family dining.
Revving the engines
With tanks full, we set off to rev our engines at the final stop on our tour - Fastlane Karting in Minto. Kids need to be over four to have a go in a tandem cart with mum or dad driving, so Harry happily dons his helmet, Spiderman face paint still intact, and climbs aboard. While three-year-old Gracie is treated to a slushie and a place on the viewing stands, I let my competitive side show and challenge Dad and Harry to a boys v girls race around the tracks. Eight laps and a set of wobbly legs later, I’m glad to say I won, Grace was on a sugar high, and the boys had had the time of their lives, even though Harry still can’t believe they were beaten by a girl.